How to Prepare for a Career in IT
So you’re thinking about making the move to a career in IT. It’s a smart choice. The most recent Tech Jobs Report from CompTIA shows that tech industry employment has grown during every one of the past 19 months. Even as we hear worries about the US economy slowing down, experts claim the IT sector is among those least likely to be affected by an economic downturn.
Moving from “thinking about” to actually switching to a new career requires gathering some information. This post is designed to give you the big picture and help you determine your next steps. We’ll start with an overview of the IT field and also describe some common pathways for getting involved in it. Then we’ll detail the steps you can take as you begin to move in the direction of a new career in IT and explain how CompTIA Tech Career Academy can help you get there.
What Are Careers in IT Like?
Everyone knows IT has something to do with computers. Beyond that, however, many people only have a vague idea of what the field is like.
The first thing to know is that it is extremely broad. IT stands for “information technology,” which concerns the use of computing in the creation, storage, and use of electronic data. It’s a simple description, but there are a surprising number of areas involved in this important part of the modern workplace.
For instance, IT includes:
Analytics: the organizing and examining of mountains of data to obtain actionable insights and create compelling ways to share them with others
Machine learning & AI: creating hardware, algorithms, and processes that enable computer systems to acquire new abilities like image recognition
Cybersecurity: ensuring the safe storage and transfer of sensitive data
Software development: creating the applications that leverage computing power and networking for the efficient creation, storage, and manipulation of data
Networking: designing, engineering, deploying, and managing the systems that allow computing devices to communicate with one another
Cloud computing: developing and managing remote and distributed computing systems
Administration and support: planning, installing, and maintaining computer and networking resources
This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you some sense of the breadth of opportunities in this field.
One other way to look at it is to make a broad distinction between two types of focus in IT. Some workers in IT are concerned with the creation of new products. That includes everything from novel software applications to networking hardware. Another set of workers is more focused on administration. They take on the responsibility of selecting, deploying, maintaining, and troubleshooting the hardware and software created by others.
In short, if you are interested in IT, there is likely to be a place for you to thrive that matches your interests and skills.
What Are the Common Pathways to an IT Career?
There are two common routes you can take to launching a career in Information Technology: the traditional path and an accelerated one.
The Traditional Path
As in many careers, one way you can move into a career in IT is to get a college degree and then enter the job market. Some specialties, like software engineering, will usually require a college degree. Others, like advanced research positions in IT, may even require a Ph.D.
This route has certain advantages. For one thing, you will have the widest opportunities with a college degree. For another, a four-year degree will give you a level of depth and breadth in your knowledge that would be more difficult to acquire on your own.
On the other hand, this route has disadvantages, too. It can cost quite a bit, both in terms of time and money. It also requires you to make a significant investment upfront before you’re really sure whether IT is a good fit for you.
The Accelerated Path
Fortunately, it is no longer true that you need to have a college degree to get a job in an industry like IT. It is possible to earn more specialized credentials, called certifications, that are focused upon a domain of knowledge needed for a particular job. Just like a college degree, they signal to a potential employer that you have the skills and knowledge needed for a position.
The advantage here is that you can save a great deal of both time and money. CompTIA Tech Career Academy has an online program, for example, has a program that teaches you everything you need to know to earn the industry-standard CompTIA A+ certification. You can be ready for the job market in as little as 16 weeks and at a fraction of the cost of a four-year degree.
The only disadvantage with this path is that it won’t give you the credentials you need for certain specialties. This isn’t a permanent disadvantage, however. You can always earn a degree later if you realize you need it. Still, as you explore IT, it is a good idea to find out what employers are looking for in the particular areas that interest you.
What Are the Steps I Can Take to Prepare for a Career in IT?
Now that you have an overview of the kinds of jobs available in IT as well as the basic pathways for getting there, these are the next steps you can take to move forward.
Good decisions are the fruit of careful investigation. There are two areas in particular you will want to spend time reading and thinking about to make sure IT is the right field for you and, if so, what your path forward should look like.
First, find out what you can about yourself. What are you good at? What skills and knowledge do you already have? What do you love to do? What do you dislike doing? Answering these questions will help you steer toward a job that you will find enjoyable and satisfying for the long term.
Second, find out everything you can about IT. Browse articles on sites like ZDNet and Wall Street Journal Tech. Check out our blog posts about IT careers, like this story about Nicole, who successfully made the switch to a new career in this industry. You will want to get a sense of the types of jobs available, the qualifications needed, and what being in those roles is actually like.
2. Build Skills and Knowledge
In order to land your first job in IT, you are obviously going to need some knowledge and skills you can demonstrate to a potential employer. Here are some ways you can begin to build them:
Online resources: There are lots of courses, videos, and other resources online that can begin to teach you about different areas of IT. For instance, you might decide to learn a common programming language like HTML or Java.
Internships: An internship usually has much lower expectations than a regular job when it comes to your background and experience. It can be a valuable way to gain hands-on experience and find mentors to help you build your career.
College courses: Earning a college degree can prepare you for a variety of different IT positions.
Certifications: Preparing for and passing certification exams will give both you and an employer confidence that you have the skills and knowledge needed for a particular area in IT.
The good news is that some of these resources are free (and an internship can even pay you) so you can get started building the tools you need for your new career right away, even if you’re not yet completely sure about your direction.
3. Build Your Network
Many people have a natural aversion to networking. If you’re among them, you should do your best to overcome it. Why? Networking is an important strategic part of finding a job. Research reported by LinkedIn found that a majority of those surveyed found their most recent job through networking.
It goes well beyond that, however. Networking can also be a great way for you to find connections in IT from whom you can find out information about what it’s like to work in the industry and where the best opportunities are right now.
Having trouble getting motivated? Harvard Business Review has a helpful article containing research-backed strategies that can help you improve your networking game.
The CompTIA Tech Career Academy Difference
You don’t have to do it all on your own, by the way. As part of our training program, CompTIA Tech Career Academy will give you opportunities to make connections with potential employers. These include mock interviews with our employer partners and individualized introductions to members of our network of over 400 organizations.
Read more about how our career services help you get started here.
Where to Go from Here
If you find yourself just beginning step one above, we think you’ll find these other recent posts helpful. They go into more detail about some of the things talked about here.
If you are ready for step two - building your skills and knowledge - we have a training pathway that can get you ready for an entry-level position in IT and even help you land your first job. Find out more here.